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The Department of Veterans Affairs aims to place more than 500 unhoused veterans living in Los Angeles, including 40 from the high-profile Veterans Row encampment in Brentwood, into housing by the end of the year.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough said Wednesday that the initiative would be completed in two parts: first to house the about 40 veterans from Veterans Row by November, then to house an additional 500 unhoused veterans by the end of December.
The encampment, located adjacent to the historic VA campus on San Vicente Boulevard in West Los Angeles, has become a focal point for homelessness in the city, with mayoral candidates making visits regularly over the last year. The last census of homeless people in Los Angeles County found roughly 3,900 homeless veterans among the county's total of 66,000 people without housing.
McDonough visited the encampment last week alongside Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles).
The site was connected with two homicides within six months this year. In April, Pedro Flores, 34, was arrested on suspicion of murder and assault with a deadly weapon after he ran over another person living in the encampment, allegedly dragging the man’s body 200 yards under his vehicle. In September, the encampment was the site of a stabbing that killed an unhoused male veteran.
Following the stabbing, L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who represents the area, said that her office had been working with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority on a plan similar to the one announced by McDonough, to get the nearly 40 homeless individuals at the site into housing over the next two to three months.
McDonough did not specify Wednesday how the initiative will be funded or where the hundreds of unhoused vets would be placed, although he indicated that at least some could be placed in transitional housing facilities on the VA campus.
"It may be that all of the vets on [Veterans Row], because of what they need and what their individualized requirements are, end up on the campus," McDonough said, "and there would be space for them right now."
There are currently 54 units of permanent supportive housing on the VA campus. But that total is a small fraction of what a 2016 master plan for the site had envisioned.
The plan had called for 1,200 units to be built on the more than 300-acre campus, with 480 units due to come online by September 2020.
After financial and developmental delays, fewer than 300 units are expected to be completed by next year. The 1,200 units are being targeted for a 2031 completion date.
McDonough added that some could "go somewhere else," adding that some veterans may qualify for more permanent housing through programs such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development's VA Supportive Housing voucher.
“Almost all current residents of this encampment are already connected to a VA housing resource, including vouchers, and many are actively looking for an apartment,” Kuehl told The Times in September. “But it’s clear we must accelerate the pace at which people are moved off the street. Further loss of life in this encampment is simply unacceptable.”
In an emailed statement Wednesday, Heidi Marston, executive director for the LAHSA, said the organization and community partners have been working at the encampment since late September to provide resources and connection to housing. Since that time, the housing authority has placed over 20 people into interim or permanent housing, Marston said.
"We are encouraged that Secretary McDonough recognizes the urgency and unjust nature of allowing those who have served our country to languish on the streets," Marston said.
During Wednesday's announcement, McDonough was pressed on why this initiative was not possible before.
"I can't comment as to why it didn't happen before," he answered.
Despite the still murky details of how the VA's housing goals will be achieved, the plan was met with praise from Mayor Eric Garcetti, Bass and other state and local officials.
"This is exactly the kind of engagement and collaboration we need from our federal partners to continue making real progress," Garcetti said in an emailed statement.
Bass, who is running for mayor of Los Angeles, called the plan "ambitious but the exact kind of leadership needed to get folks in homes."
Speaking at the Milken Institute Global Conference on Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom decried the proliferation of large encampments across the state, which he said grew during the pandemic. He said that his administration had been in talks with the VA for over a year trying to figure out what do about the encampment on San Vicente Boulevard.
As he’d done in the past, Newsom blamed President Trump for playing politics with the crisis.
“We have a real partner in the Biden administration. That's why that encampments gonna get cleaned up at the VA in Brentwood,” Newsom said.
A Newsom official told The Times that there are plans for several dozen tiny homes, which the state will own and where homeless veterans could live. Veterans Affairs would provide services for the veterans in the homes.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.